Friday, August 30, 2013

Friday's Art Smarts: Red Rubber Ball

Today's project actually comes from a fantastic book called "Enriching the Curriculum with Art Experiences". I love this book. I bought it when I was teaching 4th grade years ago and have used it regularly ever since. It is definitely geared toward elementary aged kids, but many of the lessons can be pared down to suit preschoolers.  

Today's project is one of those. It's very simple and really gets their imaginations going. 

They book titled it "Red Magic Ball," but every time I think about it I think of that song, "Red Rubber Ball". Remember that? It was made famous by a group called The Cyrkle, but (here's a little piece of trivia for you) it was actually written by Paul Simon. And since Simon and Garfunkel happens to be one of the greatest bands of all time, I'm changing the name of this project accordingly. 

Red Rubber Ball


red rubber ball
art paper
red construction paper circles
glue (Elemers would be perfect, but since we are out of Elmers I used a craft glue)
Sharpie marker
paint brushes
water colors
one enthusiastic child (or two. or three.)


Start with a mini lesson on shapes. After going over the basics, hold up the ball and ask your child to identify the shape (Most will probably call it a circle. I did take a few minutes to tell them that it's actually a sphere and we talked about the difference between circles and spheres. But going over this point is up to you. For this project, the emphasis will be on circles). 

After that, explain that you are going to play a game. You'll roll the ball back and forth, and each time a person gets the ball, they have to think of something that is a circle before rolling the ball to the next person (clock, tire, plate, eyes, etc.). After we completed this project, I thought it would have been fun to do this with the game Hot Potato, except instead of getting "out," the child would have to name a circular object before starting the next round.

After the game, give each child a red circle and ask them to think of something in the shape of a circle (it can be something that was already named). Then have each child glue their red circle on the paper and make that circle into the object they were thinking of. 

Natalie immediately decided that she wanted to turn her circle into a person's head.

Daniel started drawing aimlessly at first, but when he saw what Natalie was doing, he also went the person route. That's the only downside to doing art as a group. It's pretty common for young children to copy each other's ideas. It was neat to see each child's interpretation, though. Although they chose the same subject matter, their pictures turned out very differently. 

After drawing in pencil, I outlined their work with Sharpie. Alternatively, you could give each child a Sharpie to draw with. I'm a little hesitant to do that for obvious reasons. Just throwing it out there.

Then break out your paints! This is always my favorite part. I love watching their pictures come to life.

Natalie chose to place her person in a living room, complete with a couch, a coffee table, and a picture hanging on the wall. 

When I asked Daniel where his person was standing, he said that his person was just going to be a decoration. Fair enough.

I love watching them paint. They're so focused. It's one of the quietest parts of our day. 

I really love how they turned out. Especially, as I mentioned above, how different they are from each other:

Daniel, age 3

Natalie, age 4

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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Quick Way to Sneak in Letter Recognition and Word Building

Well, today I am nursing a sick 4 year old. Man, two days in pre-k and she's already caught a nasty virus. She's normally so healthy, so all I can think is that she caught something as soon as she walked in the door on the first day. Hopefully it's just a 24 hour thing and she'll be back on her feet, though, our regular routine is on hold. They are watching inordinate amounts of television.

So I thought I'd take this brief interlude post a super quick activity that Daniel and I worked on the other day. He's so anxious to start his school since Natalie started school earlier this week (he's pumped for that dino dig!). But since I hadn't planned to start until next week, I decided to just go through our supplies to come up with simple learning activities that can be thrown together at the spur of the moment.

Daniel can only recognize a handful of letters right now. I've decided that as we go through the alphabet this year, I wanted to start with those closest to home: the letters in his name. After that, we'll tackle the vowels and then move on to the consonants.

The goal of this activity is to both practice letter recognition and the spelling of a word. It's perfect for those kids that are ready to start learning the name and the order of the letters in their own name.

You'll need:

dry erase board and marker (or paper and pen)
pipe cleaner
letter beads (I purchased our set at Wal Mart)


Use the dry erase board to write down the word or group of letters that your child is working on. After I wrote down DANIEL (with capital letters) I had Daniel point to the letters one at a time as we went over their names.

You can take this as far as you like. I've done this activity with an eraser and had the kids erase letters as I called them out, or scrambled the letters and had them point to each one without the word order to help them. 

After that, start with the first letter in the word. Have your child say the name (and/or the sound if you're building words). Ask them to find the bead with the same letter and string it onto the pipe cleaner. 

Continue with all the letters in the word. You'll see that Daniel put some of them on upside down. I'm okay with that. Right now my concern is with letter recognition. Daniel completed the activity perfectly. Later, when he's fairly solid with recognition, we'll focus on writing them / facing them correctly.

After Daniel finished his name, we went over each letter one more time for good measure and then this happened:

As far as Daniel's concerned, time with the dry erase board is top notch. 

And Silas was loving those beads on the pipe cleaner. Come to think of it, as long as it's supervised, this might be a good busy bag for a toddler. He loved moving them along the line. But I definitely wouldn't give it to him unsupervised - those beads are just the right size to be scary.

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

September 2013 Plans

Well, it's been tough. And long, and hectic. But I'm done. I have successfully planned through the end of September. So far I kind of like planning in month long blocks of time, rather than week long blocks. It's helping me to look at the big picture, to see how one theme flows into the next, and it's giving me an idea of the materials and resources I'll need in the coming weeks. 

Each week I'll have to fill out a few things (like which stories we'll be reading or what kind of snack Daniel will help make). However, I wanted to go ahead and get these plans posted so that you guys can take a look at what we'll be up to in the coming month. 

Before you get to see those plans, though, I wanted to note a couple of things.

1. I am leaving the mornings WIDE open. I have a couple of ideas planned for each day, but I have in no way scheduled a full morning for us. I really do believe that Daniel's main job this year is to play (especially outside), observe, ask questions (and get some answers), and be gently directed in learning. 

I do want him to recognize his letters and numbers by the end of the year, but I'm coming to believe that those things will come in time. When he's ready. And while we're doing all that playing outside, we are also practicing letter and number recognition, as well as other reading and math concepts. It really is pretty easy to sneak that stuff in if you're paying attention and recognizing opportunities.

2. As I've mentioned before, much of our day will be spent outside. A lot of the activities I've planned can be done out of doors, as well as snacks and lunch. In between the few activities I've planned, Daniel will have lots of free play outside, and when the weather cools, we'll start taking walks regularly again.

3. I want to create an environment where music and art appreciation are just happening throughout the day. My goal is to play music when we're indoors, perhaps focusing on one composer or another at different times. And I'd love to correlate artists with themes, though that will take a little extra planning. 

4. As far as Bible study, my kids are involved in Awana at one of our local churches. I LOVE Awana and can't wait for it to start up again in September. This year Daniel is old enough to get a vest and a book, so we'll be going through that book week by week to learn Bible verses and stories. My plan is to do our Awana homework in the mornings, right after breakfast (or after we drop Natalie off at her school). If you're interested in finding out more about Awana, check out their website.

Okay! I think you guys have been brought up to speed. Let me know if you have any questions, including questions about how to complete the activities. And please feel free to borrow any of my plans for your own day :)

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Friday, August 23, 2013

Friday's Art Smarts: Homemade Looms and Weaving

Handmade Looms and First Weaving Project

Today's project was inspired by a tutorial I found over at Buggy and Buddy. She used Popsicle sticks to make small, homemade looms for weaving, and that was my original plan as well. But after raiding our craft closet for 10 minutes and realizing to my dismay that we didn't have any, I changed the plan. 

We'd use sticks instead. We have a lot of trees in our yard (and vines). Finding a few sticks should be no problem. And it wasn't. It took all of 5 minutes to find what we needed.

I really wanted today's project to happen outside, but:

It started raining. Boo.

After collecting some sticks and cutting them to size, I headed back indoors. 

The sticks that I found actually came from one of our truly annoying, won't die for anything, thorny vines. Although they were strong and reasonably straight, they had sharp little thorns all over them. So after bringing them inside and clipping off the sharp point, I sanded them the rest of the way down with a bit of used sand paper. 

Then I told each of the kids to choose four sticks.

Sorry for the poor quality of these photos. My camera's on the fritz and I'm currently using my phone to take pictures.


Lay out four sticks to create a square. Once you're satisfied with the shape, use a hot glue gun to glue one corner together. Then cut a long length of yarn and wrap thoroughly around that corner, securing with glue every few wraps. 

Do the same thing with the opposite corner, and then glue the two pieces together (wrapping each corner as you go) to make the final square. Make as many frames as you have kids (if you don't want to hear them arguing over who gets to use it first!).

Then cut another long length of yarn to wrap around the frame. My kids both commented on how it looked like a harp and tried to "play" it once this step was complete ;)

Let that dry for a few minutes. Use this time to cut out several strips of scrap fabric (as in the picture above).

Now you're ready - and I bet your kids are, too - to weave! 

I couldn't believe how quickly the kids caught on. I thought I would have to hover over them and guide them with each new strip of fabric, but after the first one, they were on a roll. And the actual weaving took very little time.

Over, under, over under. Daniel spoke the directions out loud as he worked.

It's always fun for me to see the creative juices flowing. Daniel stuck with red until there were no more red strips. Then he chose another dark color. And Natalie alternated between dark and light colors.

Little hands.

Finished tapestries:

Age 4

Age 3

At first I was going to try to figure out a way to save each piece. But I quickly realized that that would be a major headache. How would I save it? Glue? Adding stitches? And wouldn't it just fall apart as I cut it off the loom? 

Perhaps we can start saving pieces when they get older and learn how to really make a tight weave. But for now, I think we'll just enjoy each one for a little while before taking it down so they can make another piece. Or we could make this sort of a busy bag activity, like the lacing cards. That way they can weave and disassemble as many times as they like. 

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Thursday, August 22, 2013

How to Set Up a Nature Box 6 easy steps.

1. Find a box. It doesn't have to be fancy-shmancy. I grabbed a wooden crate that my husband found on the side of the road some time ago. It had previously been decorating our front porch. Sorry, porch. 

2. If your box has holes, as ours does, cut up an old cereal box or some other piece of cardboard to place in the bottom.

3. Put it in the bottom of you box (man, these steps are simple!).

4. We added an ice cube tray to corral all the teeny tiny bits of nature the kids might bring home.

5. Go on a nature walk! Find a local park, wildlife refuge, or - as we did today - walk around the neighborhood. 

We found evergreen trees:

All three of the kids had fun feeling the branches. 

Cactus (which we did not feel):

And wildflowers...or weeds. You know.

Natalie brought an empty cereal bag with her and they both put some of their finds in it to bring home.

While walking, we also paid attention to other things. We felt the wind and the kids noticed that it started to get stronger on our walk. They played in large, muddy mud puddles and got completely soaked (I'm trying to be more laid back about that sort of thing). Natalie and Daniel started screaming to see if they could hear their echo - they could. Silas joined in. Doesn't matter how young you are, I guess - screaming is fun. We noted the dark grey clouds in the sky, and we heard thunder. That was when we started walking home. On the way, I asked them what they thought the wind, the clouds, and the thunder might mean, and they both said rain. 

When we got back, they arranged their things in the box. Well, I'm using the term "arranged" liberally. Basically, they threw everything in and I arranged it all. They are preschoolers after all.

The pine cone and the dried flowers were from another walk, another day. We found them on the porch with the box and decided to add them in.

And our little tiny bits:

What are we going to do with it all?

Above all, I don't want this nature box to become stagnant. I want it to stay interesting, and if the kids have thoroughly examined everything several times, then they'll start to ignore it. I think the key here is to rotate things in and out fairly often. Right now, my idea is that with each new theme, we'll add one or two new items to explore, while at the same time culling out some of the items that have been in the box for awhile.

This is all pretty new to us, so I'll have to keep you posted after it's been in use for a few weeks. Today, though, the kids had a blast. They loved being outside, jumping, screaming, looking at things. It was a good reminder: it doesn't take much to get kids excited. Even a walk around the neighborhood can make their morning. 

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Getting It Together

Okay, guys, I have been working this week to pull together an outline for the upcoming year. I am no where near finished, but I am feeling a lot more prepared than I did last weekend. 

I now have a plan. A vague plan, but a plan. A direction. 

On Monday I told you that I am leaning heavily toward the Charlotte Mason camp in homeschooling. I love that it's relaxed, but purposeful. I love the nature component. I like that school is guided by the parent but that the student must take some responsibility for learning. 

I like her idea of education in general: "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life." That pretty much sums it up, doesn't it? 

So with all that in mind, and with some help from Pinterest (thank you Pinterest), I've come up with a weekly schedule, a themes list through December, and an outline for the fall semester (mostly empty at this stage of the game).

First, our weekly schedule.
I used the weekly schedule found here to help create our own schedule.

I do want to note a couple of things.

1. Although Outside Time is specifically noted just once a day, my plan is to take many of the other activities out of doors as well, including lunch and snacks if the weather is nice. 

2. I am only building a formal reading and math time into the schedule once a week. My reasons for this are twofold. First of all, last year I think I tried to do too much and I burnt myself out by the middle of the year. And secondly, I'd love for learning to be much more natural this year. For example, math concepts can be built into baking day. And we'll be practicing letters and handwriting with our nature journals. I want Daniel's learning this year to be a natural part of his day, not a sterile, separate activity. I do think those separate activities have their place, especially to review concepts that are giving him a hard time... I just don't want that to be the main part of "school" for him. 

3. I do want to explicitly work on a habit each morning as well as throughout the day. At least, that's the plan so far. I still need to come up with some ideas for how to explicitly teach those habits. Definitely still working on that one.

Next up, our themes list.
I'm excited about these. As much as I could, I tried to come up with themes that lent themselves to the Charlotte Mason approach, themes that would naturally take us outside, or, perhaps, let us bring the outside in. I want Daniel to be able to make first hand observations and connect the things he learns with what he already knows. 

Many of the themes were taken directly out of Maureen Spell's ebook, Nature Study Printables for Toddlers and Preschoolers. You can download a copy of this ebook for yourself for $3.99, and it's full of great printables for creating nature journals with preschoolers.

There are a couple themes I threw in there just because I know he'll love it, dinosaurs being one. He's already mentioned that he wants to learn about dinosaurs in school. We can't go outside to observe living dinosaurs, but I've been thinking about setting up a dig. How fun would that be?

Finally, our outline for the fall semester. This is the biggie, the giant, and, sadly, almost completely empty. I've got a lot of work to do.
My goal is to plan out each month a week or two in advance and post the upcoming month's schedule before we begin. That means... I will have all of September planned out by next week. Fingers crossed. Wish me luck. Posting our monthly schedule is as much for me as it is for you. Maybe it'll keep me on track ;)

Well, that's it. 

So far. Organizing my brain around what a Charlotte Mason homeschool day might look like for my preschooler was the hard part. Coming up with the ideas for filling out those themes will be (I hope) the easier part. 

If you take the Charlotte Mason approach with your homeschool, I'd love your feedback. Any tips or suggestions for things you think are noticeably missing are appreciated! Thank you!

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Monday, August 19, 2013

Considering Charlotte Mason

Last year, when Natalie was 3, I worked with her fairly regularly, especially during the beginning of the year. We spent most of our time on the alphabet and threw in a few math activities every week. She ate it up. She loved (almost) every minute of it. But then, it came pretty easy to her. 

After some reflection, though, I've decided that I kind of want to scrap that approach with Daniel this year. He doesn't learn in the same way as Natalie. He's much more rambunctious, he loves playing with sticks and bugs, and he has a hard time sitting still for very long. Having done some research, I'm coming to really like the ideas behind the Charlotte Mason method of homeschooling. 

I love that nature study is such a huge component of this method. Just get those kids outside and let them observe!

This year, I really want to build nature study into our everyday routine. There are so many things to discover, and kids have such a strong desire to explore. Take them outside, to some place new, and they're off and running.

Today, in an effort to start building nature study into our day, we went to Ft. Caroline. 

It's this smallish French Fort on the St. John's River, the river that our city was built on.

We found Spanish moss:


Holes in trees:

Cargo ships (okay, not really nature, but still cool):

And of course, the fort:

We spent time just outside the fort resting in the shade.

The kids didn't rest for very long before they were off again.

After the fort, we went inside the visitor center to cool off. There were a lot of neat things to look at inside, too! If we didn't have Silas, who was running low on patience at that point, we could have stayed for awhile longer looking at the exhibits. But Silas was starting to cry, so we left.

Not a bad start to the year! I'm taking some time this week to come up with a rough outline of our homeschool year and will be posting some of those plans on Wednesday. I think I am finally getting excited about the school year starting back up. It's been difficult to get back into the swing of things, but I think the reality of Natalie starting preschool next Monday has given me the kick in the pants that I needed.

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